NYTVF Women of the Deuce Panel

By Ashley Morton


The 13th Annual New York Television Festival hosted a panel featuring several of the creative minds behind The Deuce, including actor and producer Maggie Gyllenhaal, director and executive producer Michelle MacLaren, longtime David Simon and George Pelecanos collaborator and executive producer Nina Kostroff Noble and HBO’s Senior Vice President of Drama Programming Kathleen McCaffrey. The talk, moderated by television critic Willa Paskin, asked the women to discuss the challenges, joys and surprises of working on a New York period piece about a subject that’s still somewhat controversial: the origins of the pornography industry. Here are some highlights from the event.

For Candy, pornography was transformative.

Gyllenhaal’s character gets more involved with filmmaking as the season progresses. The actor commented, “Something happens to Candy when she sees a camera. For her, making pornography is an opening into the artistic side of herself. She’s in a world of sex, and that’s the context she’s in, and the language she uses to express something that gets woken up inside of her. And she can’t get back to sleep.”

Many of the themes still resonate, today.

Paskin asked the panel why they felt Season 1 of The Deuce, set in 1971, has something to contribute to the discussion in today’s political climate. Gyllenhaal cited a scene from Episode 7, between her character and pornorapher Harvey (played by David Krumholtz), in which Candy tries to learn more about the financial side of the business. “I’m engaged, interested and excited,” she explained, “and his character totally cuts me down. And the way it felt to play it, hurt. You can be angry, you can be political, you can be apolitical, but the truth is, if you’re invested in something and capable of something, and somebody tells you no, it’s hurts. And that is something so visceral, it’s been true forever. When it happens because you’re a woman, or for any other reason that is totally unfair, it’s actually painful.”

Realistic body-types were a must for casting.

“The way these guys approached the material is totally non-judgemental all the way through,” McCaffrey said. “These are just human beings; look at everybody as a human being.”

Kostroff-Noble shared, “We really tried to use real bodies, and a variety of different kinds of people. We have equal opportunity nudity for the most part. We did some research and we found that people were actually smaller, not going to the gym then, not too many breast implants, people were just shaped differently.”

“I like that the show embraces female sexuality,” MacLaren, who directed both the pilot and the finale episodes, added. “These women are out there owning who they are and feeling sexy and beautiful, and they’re all different shapes and sizes. And that is something unique to 1971. Ironically, because of pornography, we tend to look at bodies differently, and we’re much more judgemental.”

Some scenes kept Maggie Gyllenhaal up at night.

“In Episode 5 we did this really beautiful scene with me and the guy I’m dating [Jack, played by Will Chase] where we’re making love and he doesn’t get me off, so I make myself come. And in the original cut, they had cut the orgasm.”

“And I wrote like a dissertation,” she laughed, “about why they couldn’t. [Saying,] ‘This is transactional sex, and this is performative sex, but this is the antidote to that, and if you show what a woman’s real orgasm looks like when she actually has one, as opposed to the performative version, you’re actually honoring us.’ They were like, ‘OK.’ That was a place where I felt like, maybe, in a way, David and George were trying to protect me, but in fact showing more was maybe actually the empowering feminist move.”

All episodes of The Deuce are now available.